Analyzing the Surge
by Michael Schwartz

The following is a synopsis of an article originally printed in the Jan.-Feb. 2008 issue of International Socialist Review ( For a link to the complete original article, visit This synopsis was originally published at


“Progress in Iraq?: The Surge Was Not All it Was Hyped Up to Be” is a fine article by Ashley Smith analyzing the consequences of Bush’s surge. It is short and to the point, and it frames the situation in Iraq very well. Here are a few of the key ideas that we need to keep in mind:

         There is indeed a decline in violence. It is a good thing for the Iraqis but the level of fighting is still very high, the same as in 2005; so that Iraq is still the hottest war zone in the world…by far.

        The surge is not the cause of the decline in violence. In fact, the surge produced what has been the worst year for US casualties, car bombs and other kinds of violence. The decline has occurred only in the last few months and mainly in Anbar and Baghdad, after the US abandoned the surge (without saying that it had).

         In Anbar the decline occurred after the US abandoned the surge strategy—which attempted to blast the insurgents out of their neighborhoods—and instead agreed to an alliance with Sunni insurgents it had been attempting to destroy. The US agreed to give up its attempt to get control of the communities and the insurgents agreed to get rid of the jihadists (who do suicide attacks).

        This alliance is sure to be temporary, because the Sunni insurgents the US is now paying and lauding continue to call for the complete withdrawal of American troops. They also vocally and violently oppose the Iraqi government. In the end, the US will either have to withdraw (no sign of that) or else fight these insurgents again, either to root out the anti-US resistance fighters or to defend the Maliki government.

          The decline in violence in Baghdad is a result of the homogenization of various neighborhoods and because the Sadrists (the Mahdi Army) have declared a cease-fire in their fight to expel the US.

          Most neighborhoods that used to be mixed Shia and Sunni are now Shia. (This has occurred in large part because of the invasions of these neighborhoods by the US, which destroyed the Sunni militias, followed by the Shia death squads, who drove the remaining Sunnis out). A few are now all Sunni (because Sunni militias have driven out the Shia, often with US support). All in all, the city is now 75% Shia, compared to 65% Sunni a decade or so ago.

         The decline in violence in Baghdad may therefore be more permanent because these expulsions cannot be reversed. But the eviction of Sunnis has created about one million new refugees, internally or in neighboring countries. These refugees are themselves a huge humanitarian issue and they are also a source of further instability that the US and the Maliki government are doing nothing about.

          The US is not trying to overwhelm the Mahdi army during the cease-fire, and the Mahdis are reorganizing and consolidating. In the meantime, their leader, Muqtada al Sadr, has made it clear that his first and primary goal is to expel the US. The fighting between the US and the Sadrists will re-escalate unless the US withdraws (which, as we know, is not currently on the horizon). All in all, there is still a major war going on, and there are three potential sources of escalated disruption and fighting: (1) the renewal of hostilities between the US and its new Sunni insurgent allies, who continue to demand complete US withdrawal from the country; (2) the demands of the vast number of refugees who have no place to go; and (3) the Sadrists, who are just biding their time before making a new attempt to expel the US from their neighborhoods and the country

Michael Schwartz is a professor at Stony Brook State University.